NAACP Convention Closes to Cheers
Jul. 16, 1998
ATLANTA (AP) _ Ronald Flamer, a veteran of NAACP conventions, said Thursday the future looks bright for the organization that almost collapsed under the weight of scandal and bankruptcy a few years ago.
``Four years ago, all we were hearing about was who was fighting who. But it looks like we've put that all behind us,'' said Flamer, a retired city worker from Baltimore. ``Now all we are talking about is issues. We're finally getting it together, and civil rights are back.''
Flamer's enthusiasm echoed throughout as the group's 89th annual convention drew to a close with a rousing address by Vice President Al Gore.
``America needs the NAACP more than ever,'' Gore declared. He brought a flag-waving audience of 3,000 to its feet several times with a defense of the association's traditional civil rights mission.
``You are at the vanguard of our most critical battles,'' Gore said of the group's efforts to save affirmative action, give voice to the problems of black farmers and reduce disparities between blacks and whites in health and education.
It seems the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is in as good a shape for the battles ahead as it has been in years, members said.
``I've had people come up to me saying `thank you' because civil rights are back, civil rights are back,'' national board chairman Julian Bond said. ``It's a fantastic feeling. The attendance was fabulous and goes to show that people want us back in the social justice business.''
Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president, who runs the group's day-to-day operations, said, ``I've seen more energy here than I have in a long time. To me, it says we are unifying because the squabbling is pretty much absent this year.''
Squabbling, lawsuits and bad blood had become a way of life for the NAACP just a few years ago.
With a $4 million debt and top officials charged with ethical and moral misdeeds, some social activists feared the NAACP risked becoming a vast collection of local branches with no central authority or leadership.
For members like Eva Shankin of LaFourche Parish, La., the ``bad days'' of the NAACP seem like centuries ago. ``Now we are back to the issues, and I'm happy about it,'' she said.
For Shankin, AIDS among black Americans is the kind of issue she is glad the group is focusing on.
``They give us so much information here. Its wonderful, but the work really begins when we get back home,'' Shankin said.
Aside from voting on an array of resolutions dealing with internal operations, delegates were served up a full plate of issues to take back to their communities.
_A protest march Sunday on AIDS brought greater attention to the wider issue of health disparities between blacks and whites. Breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, AIDS, diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease all hit the black community at disproportionately high rates.
_A forum on minorities and telecommunications Monday with Federal Communications Commission William Kennard pointed out how black children have much more limited access than white to the Internet and other advanced communication forms.
_A Tuesday evening town hall meeting on U.S. policy toward Africa, which included Jesse Jackson; Susan Rice, assistant secretary for African Affairs at the State Department; and ambassadors from several African countries explored the pending African trade bill.
Before the convention, both Mfume and Bond said they had hoped to roll back the NAACP agenda to head off what they called ``mission creep'' _ an overly expanded laundry list of priorities.
But both men acknowledged that at least for this convention, and with the multitude of issues facing black America, the mission might have to creep just a little bit longer.
``Shrinking the agenda isn't as easy as it sounds,'' Bond said.